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COA rules on coal bed gas dispute

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In settling a dispute between two Illinois companies regarding who has the legal right to recover coal bed methane gas, the Indiana Court of Appeals made its decision based on public safety and ruled in favor of the company assigned the coal bed gas lease.

The issue in Cimmaron Oil Corp. v. Howard Energy Corp., No. 26A01-0902-CV-67, is whether a 1976 lease that Cimmaron's predecessor obtained for the right to drill for and produce oil and gas includes the exclusive right to drill for and produce coal bed methane gas (CBM).

The Hardimans own the real property in Gibson County at question in the suit. In addition to the 1976 lease Cimmaron has, the Hardimans granted a coal bed gas lease to Howard Energy in 2001. In 2003, Howard Energy filed a complaint for declaratory judgment against Cimmaron and the Hardimans. Howard Energy argues the Cimmaron lease covers only the oil and gas estate and includes only the conventional natural gas emanating from the coal, while its lease holds the right to extract the coal bed methane.

The trial court issued declaratory judgment in favor of Howard Energy, adopting the "eastern rule" that CBM is part of the coal estate, and no interest in CBM passed by reason of the 1976 oil and gas lease. The trial judge also discussed public safety and how giving away control of the CBM from the coal mine operator wouldn't serve public interest.

Because the concept of producing CBM for commercial gain wasn't possible in 1976, it's up to the courts to determine whether that lease somehow permits it.

The Court of Appeals used rulings from other jurisdictions on the presumed or surmised intent in the grant of oil and gas leases pre-dating current technology. Some courts have considered CBM as part of the coal bed estate, as part of the oil and gas estate, or a distinct mineral estate.

The trial court in the instant case followed the "eastern rule" that CBM is a component of coal and CBM production and coal mining are best left in the control of a single entity, wrote Judge L. Mark Bailey. Cimmaron would rather the court adopt the "western rule," which says the holder of a broadly defined gas and oil estate may have rights to CBM, which is a form of gas.

The gas estate owner wasn't granted permission in the lease to invade the coal seam, which would be necessary to produce the CBM. In fact, the CBM would be from virgin coal seams and would require fracturing the seam with high pressure.

"The Hardimans did not explicitly agree to Cimarron's invasion of the coal bed in this manner; it is not reasonable to presume that the intent was to permit invasion of a valuable land asset, the coal bed, should a means of making profits arise in the future," wrote the judge.

The appellate court declined to adopt either rule, but agreed with the trial court that public policy would militate toward considering CBM to be part of the coal bed.

"Public safety would be disserved by pitting the miner who needs to dissipate CBM to prevent explosions against the gas estate owner whose financial resource is being depleted," wrote Judge Bailey. "Nevertheless, it is within the province of the Legislature, to which we defer, to make policy decisions."

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  1. Your article is a good intro the recent amendments to Fed.R.Civ.P. For a much longer - though not necessarily better -- summary, counsel might want to read THE CHIEF UMPIRE IS CHANGING THE STRIKE ZONE, which I co-authored and which was just published in the January issue of THE VERDICT (the monthly publication of the Indiana Trial Lawyers Association).

  2. Thank you, John Smith, for pointing out a needed correction. The article has been revised.

  3. The "National institute for Justice" is an agency for the Dept of Justice. That is not the law firm you are talking about in this article. The "institute for justice" is a public interest law firm. http://ij.org/ thanks for interesting article however

  4. I would like to try to find a lawyer as soon possible I've had my money stolen off of my bank card driver pressed charges and I try to get the information they need it and a Social Security board is just give me a hold up a run around for no reason and now it think it might be too late cuz its been over a year I believe and I can't get the right information they need because they keep giving me the runaroundwhat should I do about that

  5. It is wonderful that Indiana DOC is making some truly admirable and positive changes. People with serious mental illness, intellectual disability or developmental disability will benefit from these changes. It will be much better if people can get some help and resources that promote their health and growth than if they suffer alone. If people experience positive growth or healing of their health issues, they may be less likely to do the things that caused them to come to prison in the first place. This will be of benefit for everyone. I am also so happy that Indiana DOC added correctional personnel and mental health staffing. These are tough issues to work with. There should be adequate staffing in prisons so correctional officers and other staff are able to do the kind of work they really want to do-helping people grow and change-rather than just trying to manage chaos. Correctional officers and other staff deserve this. It would be great to see increased mental health services and services for people with intellectual or developmental disabilities in the community so that fewer people will have to receive help and support in prisons. Community services would like be less expensive, inherently less demeaning and just a whole lot better for everyone.

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